Public Citizen | 22 January 2019
More than 70 US health, consumer and other groups demand elimination of NAFTA 2.0 terms that would lock in high US medicine prices
Letter to Congress: Giveaways to Big Pharma Must Be Removed From Revised NAFTA
WASHINGTON, D.C. – After overwhelming public demand to reduce medicine prices helped propel Democrats to a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, today more than 70 U.S. organizations launched an effort to remove new monopoly protections for pharmaceutical firms added to the revised North American Free Trade Agreement.
In a letter to Congress, the groups – representing tens of millions of Americans – demand that the pact’s giveaways to Big Pharma that would keep medicines unaffordable be removed before the pact is sent to Congress
The diverse group of patient advocacy, faith, consumer, labor and other public interest organizations that signed the letter took aim at NAFTA 2.0 terms that would “lock in place existing U.S. policies that have led to high medicine prices, undermining the authority of this and future Congresses to implement important reforms to expand generic and biosimilar competition, lower medicine prices and expand access.”
Among other dangerous requirements is that each NAFTA country guarantee a minimum of 10 years of marketing exclusivity – that is, longer monopoly protections – for cutting-edge biologics, which includes many new cancer treatments and even vaccines. This would lock the United States into its current system that keeps prices for biologics sky-high and export it to Mexico, which does not mandate a special exclusivity period for biologics, and to Canada, which now has an eight-year period.
Some of the signatory organizations have identified ways in which the NAFTA 2.0 text improves on the original NAFTA and are calling for strengthened enforcement of the revised pact’s new labor and environmental terms. But one way in which NAFTA 2.0 is dramatically worse than the original is the addition of a slew of new monopoly rights for pharmaceutical corporations that would help them avoid competition from generic and biosimilar products and keep medicines unaffordable.
The letter notes that a decade ago, congressional Democrats and then-President George W. Bush agreed on a standard for trade-pact intellectual property terms that strove to promote innovation and access to affordable medicines. That standard is not met in the NAFTA 2.0 text.
With one in five people in the United States failing to fill prescriptions due to their cost, the letter signers urge the new Congress to demand “that the administration eliminate the provisions in the NAFTA 2.0 text that undermine affordable access to medicines.” Focus on widespread public anger over health care costs helped propel the Democrats to victory in the midterm elections.
The full letter and list of signing organizations are available here.
Please see below for quotes from representatives of Consumer Reports, Doctors Without Borders, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Social Security Works, the AFL-CIO and Public Citizen.
- “Prescription drugs are priced out of reach for too many Americans. But, there are provisions in the NAFTA 2.0 proposal that would lock in prolonged monopoly pricing for prescription drugs. These provisions do not belong in any trade agreement that is supposed to benefit American consumers and workers. We urge Congress to insist on taking these provisions out. We should all be working to make prescription drugs more affordable, and this proposal would just further tighten the monopoly grip of drug makers.” – Dena Mendelsohn, senior policy counsel at Consumer Reports
- “It’s absolutely reckless and counterproductive for the U.S. government to support this deal despite evidence that it keeps drug prices high and further reduces access to lifesaving medicines. This agreement is not only a threat to patients in the United States, Mexico and Canada, it also sets a dangerous precedent for future trade deals involving countries all over the world, including many in which Médecins Sans Frontières works.” – Leonardo Palumbo, advocacy adviser at Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) Access Campaign
- “Pope Francis says that to be faithful, the economy must serve people first, not wealthy corporations. NAFTA 2.0 does not meet the mandate because it preferences giveaways for powerful drug companies that will harm patients. This new trade deal bars Congress from reducing drug prices, putting American lives at risk. Nearly one in four Americans report they or a family member have not filled a recent prescription because of costs, and prices continue to skyrocket. This needs to change. There is new bipartisan interest in Congress to begin tackling the issue of drug pricing. We cannot allow “big pharma lobbyists” to undermine the needs of our people. The profits of big pharma should not be prioritized over the health of people. Trade deals should not endanger the health of Americans. The Trump administration must eliminate these immoral provisions of NAFTA 2.0.” – Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
- “It is unacceptable that provisions in the NAFTA 2.0 (USMCA) prioritize profits and protect special interests over high-quality health care and affordable medicines. America’s working families deserve better. We will continue to fight for fair trade rules that protect their wages, their rights on the job and their access to affordable medicines.” – Cathy Feingold, director of the International Department at the AFL-CIO
- “NAFTA 2.0 contains massive handouts to big pharma that will raise our drug prices. We need to smash pharmaceutical monopolies in the United States, not allow these corporations to use trade deals to make it impossible for us to lower our prices. Many members of Congress in both parties claim they want to take on big pharma and bring down prescription drug prices. But they will all be liars if they don’t also demand changes to NAFTA 2.0 to eliminate the handouts to drug corporations.” – Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works
- “With consumer anger mounting, Big Pharma aims to use NAFTA 2.0 to lock in the government-granted monopolies that give drug corporations their power to price gouge consumers in the United States and around the world. The idea was to sneak a provision into the trade deal that would prevent the United States, Canada or Mexico from reducing monopoly terms in their domestic law for cancer and other important medicines. But here’s the bad news for Big Pharma: Congress is aware of the pharmaceutical corporations’ sneaky effort to lock in high drug prices using NAFTA 2.0, and if those terms are not eliminated, it’s hard to imagine how a deal gets through Congress. – Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen